Reaction of the T cell membrane with monoclonal antibodies to T3 can initiate cellular activation, and this is associated with increased intracellular Ca2+ and inositol-trisphosphate (IP3) release. We therefore studied the possible involvement of Ca2+/phospholipid-dependent kinase (C-kinase) in these phenomena. Quantitative assays of exogenous substrate phosphorylation in unstimulated cells showed Ca2+/phospholipid-dependent kinase activity in the cytosol, but no comparable activity in the particulate fractions corresponding to membrane and cytoskeleton material. At concentrations of soluble anti-T3 that partially activate T cells in the absence of macrophages, there was a 50 to 60% decrease in C-kinase activity in the cytosol, with a comparable increase in activity in the membrane fraction. A similar transfer of activity was also induced with the known C-kinase activator, 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate, although redistribution was more rapid in onset, more complete, and more sustained. Redistribution of enzyme activity was additionally confirmed by qualitative assays of endogenous substrate phosphorylation. Labeling of intact cells followed by immunoprecipitation analysis with anti-T3 indicated signal-dependent phosphorylation of two components of the T3 complex and an unidentified 94,000 substrate that was resistant to reduction and alkylation. These findings are consistent with an important role for C-kinase in transduction of membrane events by the T3-Ti complex.